Happy families are all alike
What can a person do when no one is listening and he has something to say?
In the case of Billy, the deaf son in an incredibly literate and verbal family, sometimes the only way to be heard is to stop trying to talk. In Capital Stage’s fantastic production of Nina Raine’s Tribes, we are invited to question everything we think we know about communication and language—which, we quickly discern, are not the same thing at all.
Billy (the amazing Stephen Drabicki) has been raised without access to deaf culture or sign language—a status that his intellectual and overbearing father (Lol Levy) believes lets him be an individual rather than a disabled person, a position with which his devoted mother (Jamie Jones) and talented but troubled siblings (Elizabeth Holzman, Benjamin T. Ismail) apparently agree.
So, despite being an intelligent, empathic and creative soul, Billy is effectively left out of the conversation at home.
Then, he meets the smart and beautiful Sylvia (Brittni Barger), the child of deaf parents who is herself going deaf. She introduces him to signing and to deaf culture—but is also dealing with the tumultuous emotions that accompany losing her hearing.
To begin with, the play is so full of smart, provocative language—of both the British English and sign-language variety—that it almost demands to be seen more than once, simply to savor the poetry and ideas. Add to that an outstanding—and perfectly cast—ensemble, led by Drabicki and the luminous Barger, with thoughtful staging and airtight direction from Cap Stage’s Producing Artistic Director Jonathan Williams, and this becomes a production that will be difficult to get tickets for and no doubt the subject of lengthy discussion for some time to come. Touching on issues of self-determination, the value of culture and language’s position in its creation, mental health, and the difference between familial support and familial smothering, Tribes asks us to imagine ourselves in the midst of a variety of tribal configurations.
At what cost does membership in our tribe come, and what price do we exact from those we love in order to keep them close to us? Are adapting, accepting and surrendering to a disability all the same thing? These issues—plus plain old family dysfunction—all get a smart and emotional workout in this don’t-miss play.